Game developers continuously seek new ways of affecting their players through the design of their games. The topic of The Human Condition has been discussed by famous designers such as Jonathan Blow (2011) and it has become progressively more popular to portray everyday events or stories through games as a medium, with Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013) being a recent example. We have now come to a point where games have matured enough to start exploring areas outside of its own culture, and in particular to start trying to affect players’ behavior outside of the game itself.
The will to affect humans through the use of a medium is far from unique to games. To fully understand the length at which humans go to affect one another, it is important to look at some history regarding the issue. This will also grant us some perspective when setting out to create a game that can affect people outside of the game itself, aside from just giving a memorable experience. Let’s travel back a while in time and take a brief look at what we can learn from our friend Socrates.
Understanding through Dialogue
Roughly 2400 years ago the Greek Socrates broke new ground with his dialogue methodology, later written down by his student, Plato (Chesters, 2012). The word Dialogue had a different meaning in old Greek than it has today, as it had a meaning akin to Through-Language (Chesters, 2012). Dialogue was used to reach a higher knowledge through conversation, a universal truth tried against several different viewpoints. The Socratic Method has been used in therapy sessions by therapists trying to help a client come to a conclusion on their own (Overholser, 1993) but is also used by some teachers when facilitating classroom discussions (Chesters, 2012). Wouldn’t it be amazing if games could be used as a therapeutic medium offering alternative viewpoints, helping the player come to insights on her own?
Games and life philosophies
Life philosophies have existed nearly as long as humanity, offering different outlooks on life. To clarify, by life philosophies we mean religious beliefs, such as Christianity, but also non-religious beliefs such as Secular Humanism. These different philosophies often contradict each other, creating tension between the groups. This tension sometimes result in war, other times in lengthy discussions to try and find a common ground where there is only a wide abyss (Dawkins, 2013).
According to Koster, games can be seen as a medium of teaching (2005). If life philosophies could be the subject of a game, could the game then teach the player the value of trying to understand the other side’s perspective?
How can game developers create entertaining experiences that have the potential to affect the player outside of the game?
Every medium influences its user, and games is not an exception. Even so, games right now seem to have a very limited palette of expression, which is something worth expanding on. It is often debated whether or not games (and media in general) has a social responsibility, meaning that its developers needs to be responsible with their creations and to work towards the betterment of society. (Koster, 2005) Whether this is true or not, it is a goal that we as developers would like to pursue as we see it as the next important step for games in order to be widely accepted. We believe that games as a medium can handle mature and important topics relevant to society and the understanding of the human condition.
Just like Jonathan Blow made a game about forgiveness with Braid (KÄLLA till spelet), we would like to tackle a theme that is important to people in our current society. One could argue that for every human, there is a unique way of perceiving the world. With Life Philosophies being a subjective matter at its core, is it possible for humans with different backgrounds to truly understand and accept one another? If games could be used to help humans understand the value of acceptance, the next generation of humanity (i.e. those born in the 90s) who have games as one of their primary mediums of entertainment could be positively influenced. Jesse Schell, a famous game design teacher at MIT, argues that every designer has a responsibility with his creations (KÄLLA). He visions this responsibility as a ring to be carried around our pinky fingers, so that every time our hands touch something we are reminded of that responsibility towards our players. After two years of studying game design and art, it is time for us to put on that ring.
Propaganda during wartimes
The Hero’s Journey
Blow, J. [rubbermuck]. (2011, March 8th). Jonathan Blow: Video Games and the Human Condition [Video]. Downloaded from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqFu5O-oPmU
Chesters, S.D. (2012). The Socratic Classroom [Elektronisk resurs]: Reflective Thinking Through Collaborative Inquiry. Rotterdam: SensePublishers.
Dawkins, R. Wright, W. [CIIReligion]. (2013, March 23rd). Richard Dawkins interviews Creationist Wendy Wright (Complete) [Video]. Downloaded from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AS6rQtiEh8
The Fullbright Company. (2013). About Gone Home. Downloaded 2014-02-03, from http://thefullbrightcompany.com/gonehome/
Koster, R. (2005). A theory of fun for game design. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press.
Overholser, J. C. (1993) Elements of the Socratic method: I. Systematic questioning. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Vol 30(1), 67-74. doi: 10.1037/0033-3188.8.131.52